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A New Round of Bombing

Aired January 3, 2002 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Bill Hemmer. A new round of bombing, U.S. warplanes hitting a suspected al Qaeda compound near Tora Bora. The latest on the military campaign and the hunt for bin Laden.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We do want to capture Osama bin Laden and Omar and the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, and we're working on it. But even if we were to capture them tomorrow, our job would still be far from over.


ANNOUNCER: Bob Franken is at the Pentagon. U.S. Army investigators arrive in Kandahar, where questioning of pro-Taliban fighters is about to move to a new level. Images of America's new war.


UNIDENTIFIED PHOTOGRAPHER: I must have taken thousands of pictures out here.


ANNOUNCER: A combat photographer shares his perspective on the marines and their mission.

Plus, one of life's simplest pleasures banned by the Taliban, now making a comeback. The sound of music returns to Kabul.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to Kandahar. We're with the U.S. military here at the international airport in southern Afghanistan, and there's a whole lot of news to talk about in the next 30 minutes.

We're hearing again through the Pentagon, fresh air strikes being carried out in eastern Afghanistan. This, a region south of Tora Bora, in a region known as Khowst. We'll talk more about that in a moment, when we get an update from the Pentagon. Also in southern Afghanistan, in the northern stretches of Helmand Province, near the town of Baghran, we're getting more reports from local tribal leaders who say right now they're negotiating a surrender of about 1,500 loyal Taliban troops. They believe these troops may be protecting the Taliban founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. There are various reports as to whether or not Omar's been apprehended, but nothing is confirmed and nothing has been confirmed positive on the ground just yet.

Now in eastern Afghanistan, the Pentagon does confirm those air strikes are hitting al Qaeda targets on the ground. B-1 bombers involved, F-18s as well as AC-130 gun ships carrying out and hitting targets south of Tora Bora.

For more on the latest military action, let's go live to the Pentagon now and CNN's Bob Franken who's tracking this from there. Bob, hello.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bill, and this was the first news conference of the year for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it seemed that the main effort today was to try and clear up what they consider to be some misconceptions.


FRANKEN (voice over): Just in case anyone was thinking that the war was over --

RUMSFELD: Reports about mopping up, meaning sort of the end of the effort in Afghanistan notwithstanding, the War on Terrorism is still in a relatively early phase.

FRANKEN: And while it is true that there is far less bombing these days.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: We conducted strikes between 10:00 and 11:00 our time in Afghanistan on a leadership compound that was a fairly extensive compound, had a base camp, a training facility and some cave pieces to that, fairly close to the Pakistani border, as a matter of fact. And that was the last strike in the last several days.

FRANKEN: This was the very same site that was bombed in November by the United States, and attacked with cruise missiles during the Clinton Administration in 1998. That was one of the failed efforts to get Osama bin Laden.

The Pentagon did release copies of leaflets dropped in the region. They show impressions of how bin Laden might look now, if he shaved his beard and was wearing western-style clothing, and they include captions. One translates to English, "Osama bin Laden, the murderer and coward has abandoned you."

As for the reports there are negotiations over the fate of that other fugitive #1, Mullah Omar, the reports are persistent. The Defense Secretary insistent.

RUMSFELD: And I've already said what we would accept. We will accept surrender. These people have killed a lot of people. They deserve to be out of there. They deserve to be punished, and that is what we're there to do.

FRANKEN: Plans are now well underway to transfer some of those already in custody to detention facilities under construction at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as soon as possible and as carefully as possible.

RUMSFELD: We plan to use the necessary amount of constraint so that those individuals do not kill Americans in transport or in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


FRANKEN: And, Bill, the Secretary went on to say that if Guantanamo gets to capacity, that some of these detainees, as they prefer to call them, may end up at bases in the United States. Bill.

HEMMER: Bob, on another front we're hearing from some Special Forces here on the ground at Kandahar. They believe the possibility that this region of Khowst, they mention the town of Gardez, G-A-R-D- E-Z, may be where Osama bin Laden may have fled. I'm wondering if the Pentagon has said anything on that.

And also on another front, Bob, with this latest bombing, they have warned us for some time that Taliban fighters may scatter then reassemble. Do they believe that these fighters have indeed reassembled in this region that was hit overnight last night, Bob?

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, going to your latter point first, the Pentagon has been saying for the last couple of days that there is a concern that some of the Taliban and also al Qaeda fighters who had been routed, who had run off in panic, were reestablishing connections, that they might try and put together a cohesive force that could once again be a danger.

As for Osama bin Laden, there is one theory that he is in that region, which is near the Pakistan border. There are other theories that he has, in fact, crossed over into Pakistan. And, of course, there's still another theory that he is buried under tons of rock somewhere in a cave that was bombed during the assault on Tora Bora.

The Secretary says even if they knew, they wouldn't say, but you get the impression that all they really have is just sort of this babble of different intelligence reports.

HEMMER: Yes, there are plenty of questions and theories out there, Bob, thanks. Bob Franken, live at the Pentagon for us.

Back here in Kandahar now, I want to talk about the latest matter concerning the detainees. Twenty-five more came in last night. The total now is 225. And an interesting division from the U.S. Army came in yesterday. This is called the CID, the Criminal Investigative Division. Essentially they'll be here looking into evidence that may link some of these prisoners, some of these detainees, to the possibility of terrorist activity either carried out, targeted, or planned against U.S. targets or U.S. citizens overseas. And also, there is continued speculation that a move possibly toward Guantanamo Bay may come at any time.

On another front, we're told about pockets of resistance throughout southern Afghanistan on a constant basis here in Kandahar. And apparently a day and a half ago, another one of those pockets cropped up.

Four suspected Taliban soldiers surrounded inside of a building in central Kandahar, anti-Taliban troops surrounded the building. A firefight ensued. In fact, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired in that battle. All four were taken into custody, and we're told they're being held right now for police questioning.

Back now to that porous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pentagon has long warned the strong possibility that al Qaeda fighters might try and reach Pakistan by fleeing through Afghanistan in that region that has been loosely controlled. The Pakistani army certainly has tried to buffer that area, but it is a wide area with a number of routes in and out.

I want to go now to CNN's Kamal Hyder who's working by videophone on the Pakistani side of that border for an update on what's happening there. Kamal, good morning to you.

KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. The (inaudible) Pakistan Army and the militia forces, the tribal militia forces have fanned out. The authorities told us that it was an emergency deployment, and that once the Americans started to bomb the Tora Bora area, it was felt that the forces must be on the ground to seal any escaping routes for al Qaeda.

The army and officials also conducted lengthy negotiations with the tribal chiefs, told them that it was important for the Pakistan Army to seal this border, and important to have their cooperation, which apparently they got. Bill.

HEMMER: Kamal Hyder working the Pakistan-Afghan border for us this morning. Kamal, thanks to you. There continues to be speculation Osama bin Laden may have tried to escape into Pakistan along that area, but again as Bob Franken was talking about, it is anybody's guess at this point.

Essentially here in Afghanistan, you can divide the country in two, the northern half and the southern half, but the northern section apparently much more secure. Already peacekeepers are on the ground there in Kabul. But here in the south, it is a different story, said to be quite insecure and unstable.

But part of the reason, to allow Afghans to travel from the north to the south, was reopened today. I want to go live to Kabul now, and CNN's John Vause, who is watching this story. John, good morning. JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Well that pathway, that road that we're talking about is actually the Salang Tunnel. It's in the Hindu-Kush Mountains, 60 miles away from Kabul. It's a long and windy road up into the mountains. It's a difficult drive. It takes about three hours simply to get to the tunnel here from Kabul.

Now the tunnel was exploded by the Northern Alliance to try and stop the Taliban advance a few years ago. So it's been closed for quite a few years, but work has begun to try and reopen the tunnel to motor traffic. It's already open to foot traffic, and there's actually quite an industry up there at the moment.

What's been going on for the last few weeks now is that this industry of transport, if you like, there's cars and trucks lining up on the Kabul side of the tunnel.

What they do is they take their goods up to the tunnel. They take it up to the Kabul side of the tunnel. They then hand over their goods to these porters that they call them, and for a few dollars, they carry these massive loads through the tunnel. It's about a one and a half mile walk through to the other side.

Now this is very important, because this is the first flow of goods through this tunnel for years, and what it means is that by using this tunnel, it can basically make a trip from Kabul to Mazar-e Sharif, instead of the four days that it takes now with the tunnel closed, by opening this tunnel at least partially, it makes that trip only about 12 hours.

Now Russian engineers and workers from the Halo Trust, as well as local Afghan workers are trying to clear the debris from inside the tunnel. They hope to have it fully open by the end of the month. They also need to put in some kind of ventilation system.

But as we said, once that's open, there will be this free flow of traffic between the north and the south of the country. That's very important, because the way the people up there describe that, is this is a very symbolic route. They described this as the artery, if you like, of Afghanistan and a way of unifying this country.

It's very dark inside that tunnel. We were there. We did the walk. It's very dusty. They've managed to put up a few lights to try and light the way, but that only worked for a few hours each day from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 at night. It's also very, very cold. It seems to be a dangerous walk as well. There's a lot of fallen rubble from the secondary ceiling which collapsed as the result of that explosion.

But they're in there. They're in there with heavy machinery. They're trying to clear that tunnel. It's a massive job, and as I said, they've been working on it for quite some time now. It's open to foot traffic. It's also very important for refugees as well as they try and return to their respective homes, either in the north or in the south. We met a number of families who are making that long journey with their families, small children. They traveled to the tunnel's entrance, walk the rest of the way, and then hope to get a ride, pick up some kind of bus or taxi to the other end of their journey. It's very cold up there. It's a very difficult task even though the tunnel has been reopened, at least partially.

But as they say, this is very symbolic in the fact of trying to unify this country into some kind of national entity here. Bill.

HEMMER: John, you mentioned the economic aspects of that road and how critical and wild it is. I was quite taken back in central Kandahar at a time of war, a country that has so many products in the market, and so many fruits and vegetables. Food seems to be aplenty here, at least in the south anyway. Is it the same there in Kabul where you are?

VAUSE: Very true, the markets are busy. The markets are stocked, a lot of fresh fruits, lots of vegetables, a lot of merchants in the markets, and they seem to be busy. But the problem is that a lot of people just simply don't have the money to buy what's on offer. They seem to be selling obviously to the more wealthy Afghans, as well as to the embassies and the westerners and the aid workers, as well as the journalists who are in town as well.

But it's once you get into those rural areas, which we have spent some time in, especially yesterday when you go into those areas and you realize just how difficult the hardships that these people are facing, as well as the years of drought which have left what would have normally have been very fertile farmland and fertile plains.

They're just dustbowls right now. They desperately need rain. A lot of these people just simply survive on what they can grow in their areas, and what they can actually manage to grow and then later sell at the markets. It seems that a lot of the produce which is being grown here is simply being sold, and not being made available to the people in the countryside. So that's one of the issues here. If they can get rain, they're going to be in a lot better shape than they are right now.

HEMMER: Rain indeed, John. I haven't seen a riverbed yet that has any water in it here, in southern Afghanistan. John Vause reporting from the Afghan capitol city of Kabul. John, thanks.

In a moment here, the images of Afghanistan and the memories for the U.S. military. That's up when we come back.


HEMMER: Earlier today, the U.S. Marines paused to honor one of their own, Corporal C.T. Chandler was a U.S. Marine back in early December. He lost his left foot while clearing land mines here at the south end of the runway at the Kandahar Airport.

Earlier today, the U.S. Marines honored Corporal Chandler. They dedicated their latest firing range to Corporal Chandler, in honor of his work here. Since that time, Corporal Chandler's been flown out to Germany, later to Washington, D.C. We are told he is still resting and recovering in a Washington hospital.

Some of the enduring images we collect here in Afghanistan certainly come on a day-to-day basis by the pictures, the still photos that we see on a daily basis. We've seen a number of photographers here.

One photographer, though, Rob Curtis of the Army Times has taken thousands of photos. It is Rob's pictures that many people see on Internet sites around the world and newspapers around the world as well. We sat down with Rob to tell a bit of a story. Some of his pictures about the story here in Kandahar.


HEMMER: How many photos do you think you've taken out here in the Afghan desert?

ROB CURTIS, ARMY TIMES: I must have taken thousands of pictures of these marines.

HEMMER: Of those thousands, we've chosen 14 that kind of tell the story of the marines and their mission here. This first one here, call that up, Rob.

CURTIS: The bin Ladenator.


CURTIS: It just shows the sense of mission they've got out here. They want to get -- preferably they want to get this guy and they want to go home.

HEMMER: This next one, are they going or coming here away from this helicopter?

CURTIS: They're coming back from a mission. They were guarding a helicopter that had an accident out in the desert. They had been out in the field for a couple of days. They're dirty and tired. They just want to get a hot shower.

HEMMER: They're not going to get a hot shower out here, are they? Next one, similar mission?

CURTIS: This photograph I wanted to show how much gear these guys had to haul up and down this terribly difficult terrain, terribly difficult terrain for these guys.

HEMMER: In this next photo, take a look at how dirty this man's hand is. Hygiene out here is critical, and it's difficult to get clean on a daily basis.

CURTIS: Definitely, and it's one of the things that the marines are really trying to take care of. The Russians didn't learn their lesson and it caused them a great deal of problems out here.

HEMMER: There's a mosque here at the airport and this next photo it shows that mosque, bullets riddled throughout. It was last headquartered for the Taliban here at the airport. There are a few American Muslim marines trying to clean it up, aren't they?

CURTIS: These guys were thrilled to find a mosque they could clean up and do a good deed. They wanted to clean it up, not only for themselves, but for the people that were going to use it after them.

HEMMER: Next photo is guarding the perimeter 24 hours a day. It shows the vigilance out here, doesn't it?

CURTIS: Definitely, and even though there hasn't been a heck of a lot of action immediately around the airport, these guys are ready for anything.

HEMMER: This next photo has a helicopter in it. We've seen so many here at the base. But this shows a brownout. Why is that dangerous?

CURTIS: As far as I can tell, I mean there's so much sand in the air around here and the helicopter pilots are really at a disadvantage when they can't see what's going on.

HEMMER: Good looking picture, but it can be dangerous. And this next one is Christmas Eve and a small package from home.

CURTIS: Yes, these guys were just so happy to know that people are thinking about them back home.

HEMMER: A couple weeks ago, you had the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders come in here. They loved it here, I'm sure.

CURTIS: Oh, gosh they were real eye openers for these guys. The marines really just had a great time with them.

HEMMER: Yes, and they behaved themselves I'm sure too, right?

CURTIS: Yes. I'm sure it got close.

HEMMER: Wayne Newton was here too. He's dressed in cammies in the next photo.

CURTIS: Yes, and I mean everybody knows Wayne, but the marine on the left -- just a great picture. He made the picture for me.

HEMMER: This next picture shows a marine writing a letter to home that will get there eventually, and so too will he, hopefully.

CURTIS: These guys are all hoping, but while they're here, they just want to keep their loved ones back home informed that they're safe and ready to continue doing their job.

HEMMER: This next photo shows the beauty of Afghanistan, often overlooked due to the conflict. But every night, Rob, we have seen a fantastic sunset.

CURTIS: And it's kind of a standing joke with all the photographers that have come through here that it's just "hey, have you got your beautiful sunset silhouette shot yet?"

HEMMER: This next photo's back in the foxhole with an American flag on top. It kind of tops it off.

CURTIS: Yes, these guys dug in for days and now they just got to sit and watch the lines, and they want to remind themselves what they're out here for.

HEMMER: And reminding of what they're out here for in the final photo, a flag flown at the World Trade Center in New York came here a short time ago.

CURTIS: Just to me at that flag raising, there was a lot of emotion here and it brought home for a lot of marines why they're out here.

HEMMER: Well done, Rob.

CURTIS: Thanks.

HEMMER: Thank you.


Rob Curtis with the Army Times, and certainly when the sun comes up in a few short hours from now, Rob will have camera in hand, taking more photos that many of you will see sometime very soon on Internet sites and newspapers around the world.

In a moment here, what has made a comeback here in Afghanistan is quite apparent. That's the music of this country. It's quite amazing to see the markets in Kandahar.


HEMMER (voice over): Nearly every other kiosk selling some sort of audio equipment, music, cassettes, CDs, DVDs. Apparently, it's the same in Kabul as well, the music man, have a listen here. More LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN in a moment.



KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kate Snow in Washington. Coming up on "THE POINT," the passenger had a gun. The pilot ordered him off the plane, but the man was a secret service agent and he is still upset. Was it racial profiling? Also we'll ask Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flint, why he is suing the Defense Department. "THE POINT" begins in less than ten minutes. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be right back.


HEMMER: Every night here at the Kandahar Airport when the sun goes down, we hear a constant stream, a constant fleet of giant cargo planes, C-130s, C-17s taking off and landing here. In fact, in a few minute's time, the giant jet engines of another C-17 about to take off down the runway and head out once again. It has been a loud and long night again here in Kandahar.

Also since the beginning of this campaign, there have been two main targets in Afghanistan. One, Osama bin Laden, the other Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban founder. If you followed the reports on a daily basis, your head is probably spinning right now, knocked around like a ping pong ball, trying to keep up with the very latest.

What we are hearing now, it is possible, and again stressing only the possible here, that the days for Mullah Mohammed Omar may be numbered. In Afghanistan they say inshala (ph), God willing. We'll follow it here. That's our program for now, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN.

For our domestic viewers, "THE POINT" with Kate Snow will follow next, and for our international audience, stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT" here on CNN. We'll see you again tomorrow. Once again, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN, so long now from Kandahar.




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