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What are U.S. Special Forces Doing to get Mullah Omar?

Aired January 2, 2002 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH BILL HEMMER. The search for the Taliban leader, what role are U.S. Special Forces playing in the hunt for Mullah Mohammed Omar?


REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: They were not on a hunt per se for Omar. They were out doing survey evaluations.


ANNOUNCER: The latest from the Afghan-Pakistani border.


KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We have been traveling along this mountain bench. We're talking to tribal leaders and seeing positions of the militia and the army.


ANNOUNCER: Kamal Hyder is there. The Taliban may be gone, but other, much older threats remain. John Vause with efforts to immunize Afghanistan's children.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a country where so many die for want of basic healthcare, it is hard to know where to start. This immunization program is a beginning.




TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We therefore here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy.


ANNOUNCER: On the surface, he's America's staunchest ally in the war on terror. Behind the scenes, he's much more. Robin Oakley with an in-depth look at Tony Blair.


BILL HEMMER, HOST: Live in Afghanistan where it's 5:30 in the morning here. Good to have you with us. We are with the U.S. military operating out of Kandahar International Airport here in southern Afghanistan. And earlier today, U.S. military officials confirm what we've been reporting for days now - U.S. Special Forces right now conducting operations in Helmand Province, near the town of Baghran. It is possible the search for Mullah Mohammed Omar continues in that area. It has long been suspected that he is possibly the Taliban finder taking refuge, possibly surrounded by as many as 1,500 Taliban fighters.

In addition to that, the U.S. Marines have conducted and now completed successfully, they say, their largest land operation to date. Two hundred Marines spanned out also into Helmand Province but well south of Baghran, about a 100 miles south of there. They say they were looking for intelligence in a rather large compound, a compound described as 14 different buildings. And they say they found quite a bit of information along with computer discs, brought back here to be sorted and sifted through.

We also know they encountered no hostile fire and no combat on the ground. One other thing here, important about this mission, they are working with anti-Taliban fighters who were doing the quote unquote - "knocking on the door" throughout the compound. The Marines then later described what they found in their latest mission.


MAJOR CHRIS HUGHES, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We weren't even sure that we were going to find it empty. There was an assumption. We went with the force necessary in case this place had been fully inhabited and the inhabitants had been fully armed.

Normally, we find computer type diskettes, that's the norm these days. That information will be analyzed and worked through. So it's a slow, methodical type process. In many ways, it's like putting together pieces of a puzzle.


HEMMER: It is also possible the U.S. Marines may carry out more missions here in southern Afghanistan. To date, they've carried out a dozen, but this by far and away, the largest at this point since their campaign began on the ground here back in late November.

I want to talk more about this and other matters. Live in Little Rock with us, Retired General Wesley Clark is our guest.

And General, I can't see you from here, but certainly I can hear you. Always good to hear your voice and pick your brain on what's happening military wise here in Afghanistan. First, I want to touch on this mission with the Marines. They say they got some computer discs and some information, intelligence, they'll bring it back here, sift through it, sort it out. Based on your understanding, are they finding much on these raids given the fact that many of these compounds are virtually empty when they arrive?

RET. GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Bill, they're not finding the kind of information that would let them say he's right over the next hill, right now, let's go get him. But it's my understanding that they are finding significant information. Remember, this is a network we're going against and every piece of information helps us build a better picture of that network -- who was trained, when were they trained, what was the specific training, what was the intent of it, who would they go out and have contact with, who would they have been in communication with when they were out there? All these bits and pieces add up to the full picture of the network and that's really the value of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan right now. We're putting together the nuts and bolts information we need to really take this network apart.

HEMMER: General, I want to talk about the Special Forces now, operating, what we believe and understand, is the northern Helmand Province. I'm told, based on talking with Special Forces here, specifically the Green Berets, they're right now operating in groups between eight and 12. But there's a growing frustration here at Kandahar, a number of Special Forces tell me that they want to -- quote, unquote - "get into the action." Are they missing the boat right now, giving the possibility to Mullah Mohammed Omar and again, possibly Osama bin Laden, to slip the net and the noose once again?

CLARK: It's not surprising that the troops on the ground may feel a little bit of frustration. Our troops are well trained. They're ready for contact and they'd be very good at it. But we've been very successful thus far in putting the anti-Taliban forces out front and providing them support and assistance and communications and so forth.

And the fight is going to be a fight that's -- it's negotiation backed by force. Our Special Forces represent that force, but I would -- I would that we're probably better off putting the pressure on with the anti-Taliban. We will get Mullah Omar at some point because, with the force, with the presence, we're eventually going to run him out of allies and they're going to turn him over.

HEMMER: If that is not the case, General, say we get weeks or possibly a month down the road, you know this U.S. military continues to build up here in Kandahar and other parts of the country, specifically in Baghran near Kabul. Given that, if the anti-Taliban forces are not successful in cooperating for this venture and eventually finding Mullah Mohammed Omar, at some point, is the U.S. military going to step in and intercede and take away that element of the anti-Taliban fighter?

CLARK: I think that's a very real possibility. But I think the commanders are going to be working very hard to try to provide the incentives to keep the anti-Taliban forces out there. Remember, we're dealing with -- and you're there on the ground, you must feel it when you get out, there is a certain xenophobia there, there's a disinclination to take help from anybody in Afghanistan. They don't like foreigners. They haven't for a long time. And once we go in there and start using our own forces directly, we will generate a certain amount of backlash.

It's one of the things we've done so well -- is prevent that backlash from really building up against us. And so, I think that there'll be a lot of leadership and a lot of diplomacy taking place on the ground in Afghanistan to make sure we keep the anti-Taliban forces out. We always have the option of doing it with our own forces, but it's so much better if we can get the local forces out front.

HEMMER: I want to shift your focus here to the detainees. I know you had experience with this back in Kosovo with certain prisoners of war. I'm being told right now, the process is somewhat slow with the 200 detainees detained here. To be quite frank, it doesn't appear that they have the number of resources to investigate right now on the ground.

The story that's starting to come together is that once they move toward Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that is where more information will start to come out. Based on your experience, is that where this idea and this plan is headed next for detainees and trying to obtain more information from them not just about what's happening in Afghanistan but given the entire al Qaeda network worldwide?

CLARK: I think that's the right interpretation, Bill because we're in a circumstance here where it may take a week, a month, six months for some of these people who have been detained to make up their minds, they want to talk. Some things they may not remember. Other things we may not know enough to ask, and so there'll be a process of repetitive discussion and questioning to be brought back and forth and in front of many different people during this process and all probability. And some will eventually talk more than others.

What we can't do is we can't rush this. We'd like to rush it. We'd like to get hot battlefield information. But I think the reality is that we probably won't get that. If we would have, we've already gotten it. And so, we need to take our time. We need to do a thorough job. We need to build relationships with some of these people. We need to turn them. They need to come over to us and see things our way. And given enough time and the right resources and techniques, they can.

HEMMER: Clearly, as you mentioned, months of work ahead, if not years. General Wesley Clark, live in Little Rock with us, to talk about the latest on the military campaign here in Afghanistan.

General, as always, a pleasure there.

I want to turn our attention now to the country of Pakistan. We've known for some time the Pakistani army has been deployed along the Afghan border...

CLARK: OK, thank you.

HEMMER: ... indication. Through U.S. sources, anywhere between -- all right, General -- between six and 8,000 Pakistani troops may be guarding that border. We're now being told, given the latest flair up with Kashmir that half of those troops, anywhere between three and 4,000 are now being moved to guard the border with Kashmir.

Given the events and the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament back in mid-December, Pakistan and India and the tensions increased there. Earlier today, the Pentagon was talking about this. Their concern is that al Qaeda fighters have been freshly flushed from Tora Bora probably into that western area of Pakistan.


STUFFLEBEEM: What we do believe has occurred is that they have disbanded into smaller groups. It would be, I think, obvious that some have probably gone over the mountain into Pakistan. But we also believe that there are some of these smaller groups are still within Afghanistan and may, in fact, been trying to get back together.


HEMMER: Back here on the Pakistan or the Afghan side of the border rather, we have talked about the Tora Bora region being a rather porous area for well on fighters to move in and around. Afghanistan is also trying to do its part to seal off those areas, but there's two problems here. The Afghan government is fresh and is still trying to take root and the fighters on the ground; the tribal fighters indeed, are well armed. On the border tonight, CNN's Kamal Hyder is watching that front.


HYDER: We are here in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mountains. We are at the pass, a high pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan and of course, separated by 10 feet of space. You have the Pakistani flag right behind me and to my right; you have the new Afghan flag, which is different from the Taliban flag.

Also, we have been traveling along this mountain bench, traveling Afghanistan and Pakistan border. And we've been talking to people here. We've been talking to tribal elders and seeing positions of the militia and the army, who have for the first time since independence, deployed such a large force to contain any or control any terrorists from crossing into Pakistan. Very vigilant and some of these men on very high mountains tops indeed and bitter biting cold.

The border was porous once upon a time. But we were told by the army that the army deployed within 24 hours once they found out the Americans were going to attack the Tora Bora region and tried to close all exit routes. For that, they used up to ten choppers in a rotation basis. It was a massive effort. These people were dropped on high mountain positions with food rations. And animal logistics was arranged because, in certain areas, you cannot move logistics except on muleback.

And far flung areas, where the army had never gone, the army was able to place themselves there, close the ravines, close the mountain passes, then get into negotiations with the tribal chieftains and say, "Look, we are here to defend the boundaries of Pakistan and we want cooperation with you." The tribals told them they had full cooperation from the tribals to the army, but that the army should not interfere in the tribal affairs. And the army's saying to the tribes that, "We will not interfere in those affairs."

Kamal Hyder, CNN, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.


HEMMER: Kamal Hyder on the border for us.

Now to the Afghan capital city of Kabul. We know peacekeepers continue to move in there. In fact, advance teams have been moving in for the past week. Eventually, there is an agreement that a call for 3,500 international peacekeepers on the ground here in Afghanistan or possibly more down the road.

We know initially this group will be dispatched in the Afghan capital, Kabul, also moving east to the town of Jalalabad and north from the capital city to the Baghran Air Base. We also anticipate possibly toward the end of January into February, peacekeepers may come here to Kandahar as well once the area is considered more safe and secure by the U.S. military.

We all know Afghanistan has been struggling for years with its own problems -- 23 years of war. Famine has had a part of that as well and now disease. From Kabul again tonight, CNN's John Vause and an old enemy that once again is now a threat.


VAUSE (voice-over): In Kabul, they call this vaccination week, announced on radio, TV, even at mosques, the chance to save thousands of lives from basic childhood diseases.

"After vaccination, my son will survive," Tahara (ph) told me. "He won't suffer from serious diseases."

At the Khuch Bughra (ph) health clinic, they arrive all day long, waiting for immunization against measles, which kills hundreds of thousands here every year, mostly children, the biggest vaccine- preventable cause of death in Afghanistan.

Safia (ph) brought her 2-year-old son here, just like she's done with her two daughters.

"It's vital importance to vaccinate our children," she says. "Without it, we would have serious problems with measles."

Abdul Razeq (ph) has been immunizing Afghanistan's children for 20 years. "This is my duty, and my pleasure," he says. "It doesn't bother me if they cry. Yesterday, I injected 700 children."

(on camera): But the real problem is in the rural areas. The ongoing fighting meant that many isolated communities simply couldn't be reached, and they weren't aware of the benefits of vaccination. So in the past, more than half of the population went without.

(voice-over): UNICEF now hopes with more of the countryside becoming safer, it can immunize nine million children by March, saving an estimated 35,000 lives this year.

BABA DONBAPPA, UNICEF: Afghans, they know measles, and they know the dangers of measles. So once you say "measles," they know, and they will come out and get their vaccines.

VAUSE: In a country where so many die for want of basic health care, it is hard to know where to start. This immunization program is the beginning, but there remains so much more to do.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


HEMMER: In a moment, the action behind the voice of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. That story when our coverage continues. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN in a moment.


HEMMER: Shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, a strong voice out of London was heard not just throughout Great Britain, but virtually throughout the entire world. Tony Blair came under his own shortly after the attacks. And his relationship was quite evident and quite public with the president, George W. Bush. CNN's Robin Oakley now and how Tony Blair made this cause his own.


ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For Tony Blair, daunting dad of one-year old Leo, it's been quite a year. In 2001, he won another thumping election victory, big enough to insure he'll have his way for another four years. But thanks largely to September the 11th, it's been the year too when the rest of the world got to know Britain's prime minister. No world leader was swifter to promise total backing for the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We therefore here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy.

OAKLEY: Tony Blair has done more than cheer on from the sidelines; he's been the ambassador at large for the allies, tirelessly touring the world to whip up support for the coalition. Tuesday the body language less than comfortable, he's meeting President Assad in Syria. Wednesday it's on to Saudi Arabia to see King Fahd. Thursday it's podium to podium with Ariel Sharon in Israel, then on to take the cause to Yasser Arafat in Gaza and to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Margaret Thatcher's former foreign affairs adviser says Tony Blair's contribution has been of primordial importance.

CHARLES POWELL, FORMER ADVISER TO MARGARET THATCHER: The British prime minister can do things, which are harder for an American president to do in this sort of situation, for instance, to take a very simple one, travel. When an American president moves about 3,000 people and several large aircraft go with him, not to speak of armored cars and so on. A British prime minister is invariably rather more modest and can travel from country to country with a very small staff. And his ability to get around and meet first-hand many of the important countries in the Middle East and close to Afghanistan, I think was a great benefit to the -- to the coalition.

OAKLEY: Blair's political buddies say he's a risk taker who knows where he's going.

PETER MANDELSON, FORMER NORTHERN IRELAND MINISTER: He follows through, so he doesn't simply have clarity of mind, he has followed through in his actions, and he galvanizes people. He's a persuader; he's an organizer; and he doesn't waiver until it's seen through.

OAKLEY: Such qualities have helped the British labor prime minister build a surprisingly good relationship with America's republican president.

MANDELSON: I think if you had asked me when President Clinton was in office whether a relationship like the one that he had with Tony Blair could ever be recreated between Mr. Blair and Clinton's successor, I would have said impossible. It's just too strong; it's too -- it's too deep; it works too well. I think we've seen in though. I think we have seen that in the relationship that now exists between Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush.

OAKLEY: As he hobnobbed at European summits, some felt Blair's cheerleading for the U.S. could have undermined his other key aim, that of making Britain a more European nation than ever before. But Lord Powell believes he's managed so far to act as a bridge.

POWELL: It's clear that Tony Blair believes that he can maintain a very close relationship with Washington without damaging Britain's relations with Europe, indeed while retaining a leadership position in Europe, which is his ambition for Britain. I think, on the whole, I have to say he at least so far has done it. I believe there will be occasions in the future when those two aims will come into collision.

OAKLEY (on-camera): Such a collision could come if the U.S. takes military action against Iraq. Several European leaders have made plain they want no part of any such extension of the war, which could pose an awkward choice for Mr. Blair. He did make new friends, though, with his impassioned plea for a new world order, countries coming together in a new spirit after September the 11th to tackle the problems of underdeveloped nations.

BLAIR: The state of Africa is a scar on the conscious of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it.

OAKLEY (voice-over): Some though say that's just dressed up real politic.

POWELL: In some of the ways in which he has tried to broaden the issues to say that Afghanistan and the action against bin Laden's terrorists is all part of a wider scheme of things in which we have an interest in what goes on in Rwanda or the Congo is frankly political manipulation of the Labor Party. It is always hard to get the Labor Party on the side for military action in the world, particularly in support of the Americans, and he had to sit it in a wider context in order to achieve that.

OAKLEY: Other critics say Tony Blair's style is too presidential for British taste and accuse him of letting his eyes stray too often from domestic affairs. But admirers and critics agree he's shown depth and decisiveness in the roll of war leader.

BLAIR: It is important therefore that we never forget why we're doing it; never forget how we felt watching the planes fly into those twin towers; never forget those answering message machines; never forget how we felt imagining how mothers told children that they were about to die.

OAKLEY: Above all else, perhaps, it's that ability to articulate the feelings of the many, which has given Tony Blair his new status on the world stage.

Robin Oakley, CNN, London.


HEMMER: Quite a year. In a moment here, the future for the U.S. military in Afghanistan as well as we can tell thus far anyway. That's up next when LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN continues. Back in a moment.


KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kate Snow in Washington. Tonight, on "THE POINT," an accused terrorist's day in court. He is the only man charged with taking part in the September 11 conspiracy. Can he get impartial justice? Also, an argument over rough play at a children's hockey practice and a 275-pound dad who said he killed a boy's 150- pound father in self-defense. "THE POINT" begins in less than five minutes.

LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be right back.


HEMMER: Back once again, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN. I'm Bill Hemmer in Kandahar.

You know, we've been at this airport, sleeping on the floor for the better part of two weeks now. And w have watched on a daily basis how this base continues to grow and blossom. We've seen cargo planes come in every night bringing more men and more women and more supplies. We also know in about two weeks' time, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army will take this airport after the Marines put the foothold here several weeks ago.

We know several hundred are already on the ground and the Marines should ship out here possibly in two week's time, in mid-January. All this signifying one thing, a continued transition for the U.S. military that many anticipate will take years of U.S. involvement to get Afghanistan back on the path to peace and a path for its future.

That's our program for tonight. I'm Bill Hemmer live in Kandahar. Next here, for our domestic viewers, Kate Snow is with "THE POINT," and for our international viewers, "WORLD SPORT" follows next.

That's it. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN for now. I'm Bill Hemmer, good to have you with us. We'll see you again tomorrow in Kandahar.




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